The Real Body of Christ

In my ongoing look at Ratzinger’s “Called to Communion,” I’m going to get a bit ahead of myself, thanks to some comments at James Swan’s blog.

There, one commenter, Ben, has tried to suggest that “the Church IS Christ” (and given Rome’s self-infatuation, when you see the word “Church” with a capital “C”, you should think “Roman Catholic Church”). Ben says that in the use of the statement at Paul’s conversion, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me,” Christ is saying that persecution of the church is equivalent to the persecution of Himself.

I have noted other instances of this phenomenon:

Luke 10:16: “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

Matt 10:40: “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”

John 13:20: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

This also works in the other direction:

1 Thess 4:8: Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

In his commentary on Luke 10:16, Bock notes that this type of saying “is proverbial,” and that the “representative” concept is common, reflecting the Jewish institution of the Saliah, the sent one.” “The one sent by the man is the man himself.” (1005). So, when Jesus is quoted as saying “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me,” it’s true that in each of the three instances this is mentioned in Acts, Christ identifies himself closely with the church. But in no sense is this an identification by Christ (or vice versa) so as to say, “I am the Church.”

There is no question that there is identification here; the question is, what is the nature of this kind of identification. That’s why it’s so important to note here, at this point, that Paul says, “do not go beyond what is written.” (1 Cor 4:6). Going beyond what is written in this case opens the door to leading many Christians into the perdition that is Rome.

The reason I am bringing this up here is in conjunction with what I was hoping to say in regard to the next section of Ratzinger’s “Called to Communion.” In the section in Chapter 1 subtitled, “The Pauline doctrine of the Church as the Body of Christ,” Ratzinger says “it is entirely impossible to conceive of the New Testament’s notion of the people of God apart from Christology, which in turn is no abstract theory but a concrete event taking place in the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist.”

Here, Ratzinger openly embraces the Platonic concept of “body” and rejects Scriptural meaning as he openly states, “Communion means the fusion of existences. Just as in the taking of nourishment the body assimilates foreign matter to itself, and is thereby enabled to live, in the same way my “I” is “assimilated” to that of Jesus, it is made similar to him in an exchange that increasingly breaks through the lines of division.”

Now, it could not be more clear, in analyzing the texts of Paul’s letters, that this is in no way what he is talking about. But the Roman self-infatuation, in its desires to perpetuate its grandiose claims about itself, effectively repeats the promise of Satan: “You will be like God.”

In the Beggars All Reformation comments, Ben provides a second source of information.

He also points to 2 Thess 2:4 as a key text, citing the biblical exegesis methods of an individual named Ticonius, sort of a “Donatist lite” who enamored himself with Augustine.

He says, “ ‘We may say that the whole Church is the Son of man, since the Church, that is, the children of God assembled in one body, is said to be the Son of God, one man, and even God, according to the words of the Apostles: ‘against all that is called God or is venerated’ (2 Thess. 2:4). What is here called God, is the Church.’”

Regarding this passage of Scripture: F.F. Bruce, in his commentary on 2 Thessalonians identifies this individual spoken of in this passage as “the man of lawlessness,” “the son of perdition.”

He “exalts himself” “over every so-called god or object of worship.” The addition of “legomenon” before “theon” in the text “implies that the man of lawlessness elevates himself above the living and true God and every other “so-called” god. The more comprehensive “sebasma” denotes (as in Acts 17:23) any object of worship.”

“…so that he takes his seat in the sanctuary of God.” “Elsewhere Paul speaks of the believer’s body (1 Cor 6:19) or (more often) of the believing community as the sanctuary (naos) of God, but the picture here is of a material shrine. The naos is the sanctuary proper, the holiest part of the temple complex, the dwelling place of the deity. The inner sanctuary of the Jerusalem temple, the Holy of Holies, was the throne room of the invisible presence of the God of Israel: there, in the house which Solomon built for him, (as earlier at Shiloh) (1 Sam 4:4), he was worshiped as ‘Yahweh of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim’. Although no ark surmounted by cherubim was to be found in the postexilic Holy of Holies, the God of Israel was still believed to have his dwelling there. The man of lawlessness is pictured as enthroning himself there in the place of God, in the spirit of the king of Babylon who is portrayed in Isaiah 14:13-14 as aspiring to ‘ascend to heaven’. The attempt of the Emperor Gaius (Caligula) in ad 40 to have his statue set up in the Jerusalem temple, in assertion of his claims to divinity which the Jews refused to acknowledge, provided a foretaste of what the final Antichrist was expected to do.

“But which sanctuary is actually meant here? The later idea that it is in the Christian Church,” “Gods’ dwelling place in the Spirit (Eph 2:22), that Antichrist is to manifest himself and establish his power base, is inapplicable at this early stage, when there was no united church organization which could provide such a power base. A local church, such as the church in Thessalonica, scarcely comes into consideration in this regard. One might think of the Jerusalem church, which (by some of its members at least) was viewed as the new and living sanctuary of God, with James the Just and his successors as the new high priesthood; but there is no evidence that a manifestation of Antichrist was expected within it and no hint that it is referred to in the present context.

“The material temple in Jerusalem has much to be said in its favor…Jesus’ words in the Olivet discourse about ‘the abomination of desolation … standing in the holy place” (Matt 24:15). It may be best to conclude that the Jerusalem sanctuary is meant here by Paul and his companions [who wrote this epistle], but meant in a metaphorical sense” (168-168).

The best estimates have the writing of this letter dated in the early to mid 50’s.

Paul would most likely have had in mind these other events that Bruce is talking about, and the “holy temple in the Lord” language is not in view at this point in Paul’s ministry.

In any event, even if you do somehow establish that Paul is talking about the church as a whole as “the temple of the Holy Spirit,” you are still far away from saying “Church = Christ.”

Exegesis shows us the meaning of “the body of Christ”

The “one body” in Ephesians 2 is comprised of those “Gentiles in the flesh” who were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of Promise, having no hope without God in the world (Eph 2:11-12).

These two, “Gentiles” and “the commonwealth of Israel” are the two that are “made one” and Christ “in his flesh” has “broken down the wall of hostility” “that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two.”

Hoehner, in his commentary on Ephesians (which scours the Greek text) describes what this means: “The prepositional phrase ‘in his flesh’ refers to the crucified Christ and is parallel with the phrase ‘”by the blood of Christ’ in verse 13 and ‘through the cross’ in verse 16…It was only in his flesh that the law was rendered inoperative. It shows the locale of this accomplishment.” (374)

“In the present context kainos (“new”, v. 15) is used to show that Christ has created a whole new person entirely different from the two former persons, namely, Jews and Gentiles. It is not that Gentiles become Jews as Gentile proselytes did in pre-NT times, nor that Jews become Gentiles, but both become “one new person” or “one new humanity,” a third entity” (378-379).

“The new corporate person, who is called “one body” in verse 16, refers to the church…Later in 4:13, Paul does picture the two groups, Jews and Gentiles, as a single individual of a mature person… [The phrase “the fullness of Christ” in this verse means “maturity,” a concept which is also found in other places in the New Testament, notably Hebrews 6.] This is a new body of Christians who make up the church. This creates unity among believers in the church, for they are in Christ. It is this community to which Jesus made reference when he said to Peter, “I will build my church” (Matt 16:18)” (379-380).

Those who want to suggest that “the Church” is somehow the “ongoing incarnation of Christ” ignore the fact that Christ ascended. Having “Christ everywhere” (whether in the Thomistic view of the “sacramental” presence of Christ in the Eucharist” or in some kind of “ongoing incarnation”) ignore, in Calvin’s words, his “specificity as a particular man. Christ everywhere really means that Jesus of Nazareth is nowhere.”

Michael Horton describes this further, citing Douglas Farrow, in “Ascension and Ecclesia”: “In other words, just when the gospel has taught us to think of salvation in the most concrete terms, as an act of God in the flesh and for the flesh, the story of Jesus is turned against itself. His humanity is betrayed and marginalized after all. (People and Place 7-8).

“It is the church’s recurring temptation to look away from the absence—toward a false presence, often substituting itself as an extension of Christ’s incarnation and reconciling work—that distracts it from directing the world’s attention to the Parousia in the future. Yet a church that does not acknowledge Christ’s absence is no longer focused on Christ but is tempted to idolatrous substations,” namely, considering that “Christ IS the Church.”

Christ is still God, and that God that he is puts him, even though he has the flesh of a man, so infinitely far above us that for anything human to consider itself “Christ” is nothing other than an idolatrous substitution.

“The force of Christ’s completed work “is simply lost” in the inflated talk of the church’s redemptive activity.” (Horton 167).

Bonhoeffer wrote about this phenomenon in his doctoral thesis, “Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church”. Horton describes Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran, as “painfully aware of the triumph of Hegelian monism in both church and state. “Bonhoeffer was especially critical of the fusion of Christ and his church, and he had already identified this tendency with the philosophical idealism. Like Platonism, idealist philosophy transforms ethical categories (like sin and grace) into ontological ones (like time and eternity), assimilating eschatology to the plane of immanence, and reducing the many to the one.” (168-169)

Further consequences:

“The price of this total immanence is high: the particular and corporeal are assimilated to the universal and ideal. Idealism’s concept of ‘the spirit as immanent’ means that ‘the I is person insofar as it is spirit,’ and ever since Kant the idealists argued that ‘the universal and spirit become identical, and the individual loses value,’ (These are Bonhoeffer’s words in ‘single quotes’.) ‘It is the destiny of the human species to be absorbed into the realm of reason, to form a realm of completely similar and harmonious persons, defined by universal reason or by one spirit and separated only by their different activities. Most importantly, however, this union of like beings never leads to the concept of community, but only to the concept of sameness, of unity.’”

Bonhoeffer was a person who had every reason to fear that time when “the individual loses value.”

In this, Rome is accused of having an “over-realized eschatology.” It is said to be appropriating to itself the end-time “glorification” that God has promised to his people.

But this is far more sinister. It is an echo of the first temptation: “You will be like God.” How much more “like God” can you be than to “be” “Christ”?

Published by John Bugay

"We are His workmanship," His poiema, His "poetry." If you've ever studied poetry, or struggled to write a poem, you understand the care God takes to "work all things together for good" in our lives. For this reason, and many others, I believe in the Sovereignty of God. I have seen His hand working in my life, and I submit myself to His merciful will, with all my being.

5 replies on “The Real Body of Christ”

  1. By the way, I failed to mention one other element that was brought out in the Beggars All thread. Douglas Moo, in his commentary on Colossians, says that in this letter, for the first time, Paul identifies Christ as the “head” of the body (1:18, 2:19).

    “This identification, if pressed in any literal sense, is illogical: Christ cannot be both the body and its head (distinguished from the body) at the same time. Of course, no such logical consistency is demanded in the world of metaphors, which often overlap in just these ways. Theologically, what is important is to identify what Paul intends to convey with the metaphor. The Greek word for “head” generally implies authority of some kind, and this is part of what Paul intends: Christ is the ruler of the church. But, as 2:19 strongly suggests, Christ’s “headship” also involves sustenance. Just as the ancients thought of the head, physiologically, as the directing source of the body’s movements, so Christ, affirms Paul, is the directing source of the body of his people. Only by staying connected to this “head,” therefore, can Christians grow. (Pg 67).


  2. Hello,

    I’m trying to grasp what you’re saying but it’s not coming out too clearly. Probably my ignorance in this subject. First off, I am Catholic though not an apologist. I really don’t like arguing about faith. If a Protestant wants to be Protestant…I’m not that interested in arguing about it.

    So, what you’re saying is that the Body of Christ is not the Church. Is that right?

    My understanding is that we are saved through the Body of Christ. It’s in our unification with Christ in His body that we are saved. It’s not us doing any of the work but His work on the cross that saves us.

    We are united to Christ in our Baptism and we remain in His body through our lives hopefully until death–all through the grace of God.

    I’m just trying to understand where you see the error in my logic. If you disagree with me fine. Just trying to understand.



  3. Hi Dennis, thanks for stopping by.

    You are not correct to think that I’m saying that “the Body of Christ is not the Church.” It is scriptural to say that the church is the body of Christ. What I am taking issue here with is a couple of things: what, specifically, is the definition of “church”? and what, specifically, is the definition of “body”? The Roman Catholic Church defines itself as “The Church” (with the exceptions of the shades of nuance first introduced by Vatican II with the word “subsists.”)

    One of the reasons there is confusion in these types of discussions is because so frequently, the terms are not defined. Then both parties start talking past each other, not realizing that they are not speaking the same language.

    So one of my intentions is just to show people just how far apart the two sides really are. Just in your “understanding,” there are so many words that need to be defined: “saved,” “body,” “unification”(?), “with Christ”.

    Your statement, “It’s not us doing any of the work but His work on the cross that saves us.” One important question, though, is “how precisely does this happen”? Another question is, “is it even possible to speak of precision in this matter?” And further, “if it is, then how do we achieve that precision?”

    As you might imagine, in these types of arguments, there is no shortage of opinions.

    So I wouldn’t necessarily accuse you of having made an error in logic. But in the questions you’ve asked, there is a lot of need for clarity, and a lot of people who would knowningly or unknowingly sow confusion.


  4. John,

    Thanks for the clarification.

    I do believe it is possible to answer these questions with precision. This has been explained to us by the Catholic Church. To answer your questions, the work on the cross saves us. We enter His body at Baptism where we are baptized into His death. (Romans 6: 3-7)

    Per Genesis 3 and Adam’s Original Sin, we have been deprived of the fruit of the Tree of Life and thus eternal life. Because of our sin, we had been banned from Eden and eternity with God.

    Christ pays for our sins by dying on the cross. He becomes the blood sacrifice that atones for all of man’s sins. He is perfection personified and we nailed Him to a tree. His Body becomes the new fruit and the cross becomes the new Tree of Life. We eat of His Body and gain eternal life–per John 6.

    We aren’t saved though through eating of His flesh (through the Eucharist) but rather through being united to Christ in His Body. His salvation becomes our salvation and thus we are saved–we cannot do it alone.

    Just to clarify, the “Church” is not the Catholic Church. the “Church” is the Body of Christ which can be found fully with the Catholic Church. The Church would also include the Eastern Orthodox Church and even within the Protestant circles albeit not fully.

    Regarding definitions:

    Saved–being united to Christ which would mean to be fully obedient to His words and laws.

    Body–The Church. Ironically, Christ really cannot do it alone. He needs us. We become His body. We evangelize the world. Through Him, we bring others to Christ. The work is all His but He does it through our obedience. We become slaves of obedience–slaves of Christ per Romans and we bring others to Him. All because of Him through us.

    Unification–Unity with His Body-The Church. At Baptism, we united ourselves to Christ at His death. We remain in Him throughout our lives by proclaiming “Amen” assenting to His teachings when we are presented to “The Body of Christ” at the Eucharist. Should there be sin, we reconcile ourselves back to Christ’s Body through penance. All of this happens because of the grace of God.

    with Christ–It’s to be fully and completely obedient to Christ in love. We obey not for salvation. We obey because we love God. My concern is not salvation. My concern is to love God with all my heart, all my mind and all my strength. Love comes through obedience to His commandments per John 14:15. I’ll let God decide if I’m worthy for salvation.

    I don’t want to argue with you. You’re more than welcome to believe what you wish. If you want to ask me more questions to understand my thinking, please go ahead. Other than that, I think my understanding of Christianity and Catholicism is pretty sound and there’s nothing you’ve written or on Beggars All that is more beautiful than anything I’ve learned.


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